The Perspective section of The Denver Post with a large headline that reads "News matters"
The opinion section from The Denver Post on April 8, 2018. Editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett launched what's been called The Rebellion by urging the paper's hedge fund owner to sell. (Larry Ryckman, The Colorado Sun)

Five years ago, I helped publish an editorial in The Denver Post that said that paper would likely be rotting bones by now. There was this terrific fear among us at The Post in those days that it could happen.

We talked about what would be lost. Any sense of being a paper of record seemed beyond fantasy by this point. We worried the brand we’d worked so hard for would be too badly damaged to remain viable. Relevant.

We talked with great concern about what might happen at the news outlets that relied in many ways on The Post’s coverage. What would become of the sharing of ideas and competitiveness of the overall media community without a strong state paper powering its engines?

And we worried about each other. The Post attracts so many wonderfully talented journalists. At its peak, The Post had nearly 300 journalists. At the start of 2018, it had but 100. It had won nine Pulitzer Prizes. Now, it faced losing another 30 positions.

You hate to see that kind of loss. You hate to think about what that kind of loss means for the community. For Denver. For Colorado. That kind of loss hurts across our national discourse.

We wanted to stop it from happening. A lot of people did a lot of brave things to try and stop it from happening. A lot of people worked with all they had to make that newsroom matter. Still do. They’re still hard at work, as the good Lord intended.

In the newsroom five years ago, it was like a funeral. And then we became defiant. Journalists joined press operators and employees across the company into the streets, where they were cheered by hundreds of supporters. They stormed the hedge fund’s corporate castle.

The Denver Post Rebellion gained worldwide attention. Really, it was a heady time.

Bolstered, the inky rebels held overflow community meetings meant to help. They held them again, and still didn’t meet the demand.

It became sort of a big thing, the question of The Denver Post, and beyond it, what was to become of local news.

So, what do we make of our fears from back then? Well, happily, The Post is still alive and kicking. The city benefits from the upwards of 60 serious journalists its hedge fund owners still employ. As before, and hopefully for always, The Post’s journalists are a supportive and protective bunch.

I wish we could say the same for their owners. We called on Alden Global Capital to sell to better owners. They didn’t. Instead, they stuck to their gameplan, continued to cut elsewhere, and made runs at other chains. In their biggest reach they were rebuffed. But to what end? Gannett’s merger with Gatehouse has garnered scorn from industry watchers and hurt the Pueblo Chieftain and Fort Collins’ Coloradoan.

But we knew Alden would act like Alden, and that the other big problems facing news would continue to bedevil us.

Yet what’s also happened in the past five years is something many of us didn’t expect. That editorial was also a call to arms that asked Coloradans who cared most about their civic future to get involved and see to it that Denver got the newsroom it deserved. Guess what? Coloradans came running.

So much new talent has bubbled up around us as a result it’s difficult to keep track. The legislature’s got more reporters than you shake a stick at. Who could deny the excellence and the ambition of presenting and covering Denver’s recent mayoral debates? Our media environment is currently so feisty we’ve gone all sharp-elbowed when it comes to the new arrival of the Denver Gazette.

Hey, it’s heartening to see media companies banging around like they want to fight. Think of how bad off we’d be if we didn’t have such energy.

Five years ago, 10 brave Denver Post journalists struck out on their own and started what many thought of as a hare-brained scheme. And thank God they did, for their Colorado Sun is brighter than ever now with two dozen full-time journalists, offering top-quality news and opinion day in and day out.

Colorado Public Radio is on fire as well. Their newsroom acts like a state paper, with Colorado’s only Washington bureau, and a new investigative team that’s been a powerhouse.

The Gazette’s publications benefit from a serious investigative desk also. Meanwhile, we’re seeing deeper digs all over the place. Colorado Community Media’s 24 hyperlocal papers have been reborn and are now benefiting from Colorado Sun oversight. Sun readers are regularly seeing scoops from their newsrooms.

We benefit from a host of talented journalists at our broadcast stations. We’re lucky to have Kyle Clark.

 Journalists across the state are also lucky to gain excellent reporting and analysis on our industry each week from the tireless Corey Hutchins.

Also hugely welcome have been the good people at Colorado Media Project, who came to the charge with smart leadership and deep pockets from a University of Denver and Gates Family Foundation partnership. It’s been a wellspring of support and information these last years of our new challenge.

For example, the birth of the Colorado News Collaborative, or COLab, that helps foster support and combines big projects among more than 170 newsrooms. A hallmark of life in the new reality is the embrace of a work-together mindset that’s been refreshing and extremely useful.

National player Axios has come to town. Other newcomers include the Boulder Reporting Lab, the Durango Telegraph and the Alamosa Citizen.

And that’s hardly the list. I’ll add that our CU News Corps students partner these days with Colorado Community Media and a newcomer: north Denver’s Bucket List Community Café.

The Denver Press Club! We still have an active press club!

Yes, we’ve had some hard losses. There are many struggling. I see it in the city I work in now, at yet another Alden property, Boulder’s Daily Camera. As with The Post, they’re doing their best, and God bless Mitchell Byars, but you can only expect so much from a skeleton crew. 

The truth is most days I miss something that has been lost. Something that has not been replaced. And I’m not sure that it ever will be replaced, now that this new reality has set in.

In the new world — the post Rebellion world — the talent is rich, but it’s decentralized and can lack the punch of earlier years.

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Can there ever be another Voice of the Rocky Mountain Empire? Wouldn’t it still make sense that to get the biggest bang for your media buck, you’d want a newsroom able and ready to cover the city like a paper of record? A powerhouse with a voice that can consistently break through and be heard? That can develop talent like strong state papers developed talent all those decades of the Great Before?

But then again, that’s just me and my gray hair has gray hair.

My biggest fear five years ago was that once we lost what we had with The Denver Post, Coloradans would become complacent. The dynamic would repeat itself across the country, as more and more hedge fund papers collapsed. The public would turn to social media and partisan silos. Mob rule and authoritarians would surface, and life would become rather too Mad Max for an inky wretch to feel comfortable in.

Well, we’ve seen angry mobs and authoritarians give it a shot, but we’ve also seen enough paying customers to keep a patched-together decentralized news ecosystem afloat. A satisfying reality is that a central message of the Denver Rebellion was heard.

We asked Colorado to stand up for local news, and enough Coloradans answered to make these green shoots possible. We should continue to thank them with stellar journalism, innovative delivery, and nimble responses to their need to know.

Yes, the stakes remain high. They’re high because the stories we ought to be telling matter.

So: Five years later, the news ain’t so bad.

Maybe what we have now is just the 21st century version of enough. But still it doesn’t hurt to wish for even more.

Chuck Plunkett is a former editorial page editor of The Denver Post. He leads the University of Colorado Boulder journalism capstone CU News Corps.

The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to (Learn more about how to submit a column.)

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Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @ChuckPlunkett